Amritsar - the pond of nectar

The holy sarovar around the Golden Temple
The holy sarovar around the Golden Temple

“PAWAN GURU, pani pita, mata dharti mahat” (air is teacher, water is father and earth our mother) -  thus goes the closing line of the Japji Sahib given by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev. It holds special significance for Amritsar, the holy city, which boasts of the Harmandar Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple). The city has been named after the water body surrounding the temple. 'Amrit' means the nectar of immortality and 'sar' or 'sarovar' means pond - hence the name.  

The city was founded by Guru Raam Das, the fourth spiritual master of the Sikhs, who also ordered the excavation of the pond. His son and successor Guru Arjan Dev completed this work. It is said that water from the river Ganga was added to the sarovar. The belief is that whoever takes a dip there, gets rid of their bad karma. While the pond was earlier dependent on rainwater, its supply comes from the Upper Bari Doab canal of the Ravi river via the Jethuwal distributory today. 

Harmandar Sahib became popular as 'Golden Temple' when Maharaja Ranjit Singh got its upper floors covered with gold plated copper sheets in the 1830s. The regilding was done again in 1999 with the gold and money donated by devotees from all over the world. However, due to increasing air pollution around the shrine, restoration work has to be done every year to maintain the sheen. 


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"Nanak naam jahaz hai chade so utre paar" (Having faith in Nanak will take you out of troubled waters.) Harmandar Sahib is a true symbol of secularism – its four entrance doors signify that God exists everywhere. This openness is also reflected in the form of devotees from all religions who not only pay obeisance at the temple but also undertake daily karsewa (voluntary work).

 

The Harmandar Sahib complex has four drinking water stalls manned by volunteers. They call upon the pilgrims to quench their thirst, offer them water dishes and clean the used utensils. The amount consumed daily ranges from 75,000 litres on normal days to 3,00,000 litres on special occasions. The water for these stalls is supplied by three deep bore wells.

 

Karsewaks (volunteers) clean the water dishes with environment-friendly wood and cow dung ash sourced from neighbouring villages. There are plans to completely replace the chemical detergents and soaps that are currently used in the community kitchen with eco-friendly cleansers. The shrine welcomes all and people of all castes, religions and status sit with each other to share food at the kitchen.

 

 

Chheharta Sahib, another Sikh temple located along a sarovar, is located around 7 km from Amritsar. The gurdwara and the town surrounding it is named after the Persian wheel with six belts (chheh means six and harta means belt). This was installed in 1595 on the order of Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth spiritual master of the Sikhs. It was here that Guru Arjan Dev heard the news about birth of his son and successor Guru Hargobind and decided to celebrate it with the excavation of a well, which could meet the drinking and irrigation needs of the locals.

 

Contrary to the practice of having a Persian wheel with just one belt, six belts were installed in this to draw more water at a time. This ensured substantial water supply for cultivation. Today, a whole town has risen around the well taking over the fields. A glass enclosure has been placed around the well and devotees pay obeisance here. The well's water, which is believed to have curative properties, is now diverted towards the tank where visitors can take a dip.

 

The Durgiana Temple, located in the heart of Amritsar, is another religious shrine surrounded by water. Dedicated to Goddess Durga, the foundation stone of this temple was laid by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya in 1924 on the day of Ganga Dashmi. The main shrine is built on the pattern of the Golden Temple - the upper portion is gold plated and a pool of water surrounds t on all sides. This pool also gets its water supply from the Upper Bari Doab canal of the river Ravi.

 

Various temples, big and small, dedicated to different Hindu deities are located around the pool. It is believed that Luv and Kush, the sons of Lord Ram, spent their childhood along with their mother Sita at the ashram of Maharishi Balmiki in this area. When Luv and Kush detained the horse from the Ashwamedh Yagya of Lord Ram, they were challenged to war by his brothers Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan, all of whom fell unconscious during the fight. Later, they were brought back to consciousness with the help of amrit (nectar of immortality) some of which fell on the soil, which also justifies the name 'Amritsar'.  

Whatever the truth behind such narratives, the Amritsar of today is a thriving symbol of spirituality and unwavering relationship with life-giving water.

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